About our research group/lab
DNA methylation is an epigenetic process that regulates gene activity in response to both genetic and environmental influences, beginning in utero. While methylation plays a key role in healthy development and function, alterations in this process have been linked to the emergence of disease states, including brain-based disorders such as neurodevelopmental, psychiatric and neurological conditions. Thus, DNA methylation may represent a potential biomarker of – or mechanism mediating – genetic and environmental influences on the brain. To test this hypothesis, a growing number of researchers are examining associations between DNA methylation and brain features with the use of MRI, giving rise to the new field of Neuroimaging Epigenetics. So far, however, studies in this field have been very heterogeneous in terms of design, characteristics, and methodology, with few shared practices. Furthermore, results so far have been typically based on single, cross-sectional studies with small sample sizes – which raises issues of statistical power, low reproducibility and unclear direction of effects. Consequently, the extent to which methylation associates with individual differences in the living brain remains unclear.
The MIND consortium aims to shed light on the relationship between DNA methylation patterns and brain structure and function across development. The consortium was established to help advance the new field of Neuroimaging Epigenetics by (i) promoting collaborative science via multi-cohort analyses; (ii) increasing scientific rigor through data harmonization and the establishment of shared practices; and (iii) elucidating directionality of associations between methylation and the brain via the use of prospective, longitudinal studies across development.
We combine information on DNA methylation with a wide range of neuroimaging phenotypes measured with MRI from cohorts spanning pregnancy to young adulthood. Our meta-analytic approach allows pooling results from individual studies that feature this unique combination of data; thereby maximizing statistical power, enabling to identify robust associations and fostering reproducible science.
Organization and opportunities to join
The MIND consortium comprises a global set of researchers and datasets, including groups from the USA, UK, South Africa, Finland and the Netherlands. Scientific activities are initiated by researchers and organized by projects. Participating cohorts decide whether to contribute to a MIND project depending on their data, time and interests. Cohorts with genome-wide DNA methylation data (e.g. Illumina 450K or Illumina EPIC chip) and MRI data collected at one or more time points across development (birth to young adulthood) are welcome to join.
The rise of neuroimaging epigenetics: A systematic review of studies examining associations between DNA methylation and brain imaging.
Walton E, Calhoun V, Heijmans B, Thompson P & Cecil CAM (2020). Preprint. PsyArXiv.